Checking the Sire List...Twice by Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the December 18, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell
’Tis the season to debate sire lists, and nothing stirs the pot like a close race on the leading general sires’ or leading freshman sires’ lists.

This year there is a close contest on the general sires’ list between Giant’s Causeway and Distorted Humor—two outstanding stallions separated by $189,003 in progeny earnings as of Dec. 13. Now $189,000 may not seem that close, but the difference between the progeny earnings of both sires can be attributed largely to one horse: a grade I-winning steeplechase horse named Arcadius.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the leading steeplechase horse as Rite of Passage.

The Blood-Horse has for decades included steeplechase earnings from North America and Europe in its leading sires’ lists. To many in the industry today this may seem outrageous because producing jumpers is not the end goal of most Thoroughbred breeders. Steeplechases are, however, Thoroughbred races with sanctioned meets and graded and black-type stakes races. The Breeders’ Cup supported a championship steeplechase from 1986 through 1994 then transferred the event to the National Steeplechase Association. An Eclipse Award is still given every year to the country’s best steeplechase horse, and many trainers and owners who race on the flat have been making a nice income off steeplechase races as well. To date in 2010, trainers Jonathan Sheppard and Tom Voss have won $809,930 and $590,400, respectively, in steeplechases. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have earned $223,500.

Steeplechase earnings in the sire lists of the past have not been much of an issue because there are significantly fewer races and typically lower purses. What we have this year is the relatively rare occurrence of a top-notch steeplechaser being sired by a North American-based sire and winning serious money. It is not unlike conversations we’ve had with breeders in the past about a good North American-bred juvenile, usually by a freshman sire standing in the caller’s stud barn, who has been burning up the turf in Japan and yet whose earnings are not included on the list. The Blood-Horse has never included Japan and Hong Kong earnings because the disproportionately higher purses in those countries skew the progeny earnings list. Even when The Blood-Horse changed to a list based on Northern Hemisphere racing data in 2007, instead of basing the list on racing data from North America, select European countries, and the United Arab Emirates, the earnings from Japan and Hong Kong were left out. The sire lists, however, do count Japanese and Hong Kong stakes winners.

The argument for continuing to leave Japan and Hong Kong off is being questioned more and more, particularly because the sire lists include earnings from the Dubai World Cup program. Progeny earnings have included UAE races since July 1996 when the International Cataloguing Standards Committee recognized the UAE as a Part II country and the World Cup races all earned black-type status. When the new earnings hit the general sires’ list in that year’s July 27 edition, Private Terms jumped from 65th on the list to 12th because his son Soul of the Matter had finished second in the then $4 million Dubai World Cup earlier in the year.

Several breeders in recent months have told us the exceptions on the sire lists no longer make sense, given the globalization of racing. Create a Northern Hemisphere list that includes everything—all stakes winners, all earnings, no exceptions, we’ve been told. Others still want to put the brakes on Japanese earnings.

Is there a perfect sire list? No, which is why publishes 15 different North American and international lists daily (which doesn’t count the lists published for 60 different states and regions). But the question always comes down to what should make up the leading sires’ list. What criteria best determine the industry’s top sire? Changing times require the sire lists be regularly evaluated for their relevancy. In the 1950s, the lists only used to count winning earnings. So now its time to look again. Should the leading general sires’ list include everything or should it only focus on North America and exclude foreign racing? There are some lines we wouldn’t cross, for example, blending Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere data. These are different markets with racing seasons that don’t mesh well when combined. But beyond that, the floor is now open.

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